Seeing things under the right light.

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This week has been an interesting week at The Modern Monk Project. In looking back over the previous 7 days of prayer posts, there seems to be a couple of distinct themes coming through.

I had not picked up on it until just now, but the theme of being a blessing out of the blessings God has blessed us with (a new tongue twister!) has been pretty prominent; particularly in the morning prayers posted on Facebook and Twitter this week.

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The other theme that has come though has been the theme of light. This one has not been as public, but has appeared quite prominently in my personal prayer times. Interestingly, while light appears as a theme in the Morning and Evening Office (for obvious reasons), it is the liturgy of the Midday prayer-stop that got my attention.

Traditionally, the theme of Terce – the third hour prayer stop prayed around 9am – is Pentecost as per Acts 2:15; and the theme of None – ninth hour prayer prayed about 3pm – is remembering Christ’s death as per Luke 23:44. The theme of the Midday prayer-stop (known as the office of Sext, or prayer at the sixth hour or midday) focuses on the Cross and the Passion of Jesus. According to scripture, midday would have been about the time Jesus was nailed to the cross (see Mt 27:45). One of the prayers in the liturgy I have been using this week says this:

“In the strength of your cross, O Christ,
you have filled the world with light:
we cry to you with joy and thanks!”

Yesterday during Midday prayer, I found myself reflecting for a long time on the Cross shedding its light on the world. In my mind I saw the image of the Cross and coming down from it was a stream of light in the shape of an upside down cone; like a downlight type desklamp. It illuminated everything beneath it like a desklamp does. And in this image I saw the world – its problems, its issues and its worries along with its beauty, its blessings and its goodness.

As I looked at this picture I realised that as a Christian, I am to look at everything illuminated by the light that comes from the Cross. Nothing is to be understood unless we have the light from the Cross falling over it. Only then do we see it truly as it should be seen.

People around me? They must be looked at under the light of the Cross. Are the living without Jesus? The light of the Cross offers them a hope. Are they struggling? The light of the Cross shows them that there is a way. Are they sick or in pain? The light of the Cross offers them healing.

Issues around me? They must be looked at under the light of the Cross. How do I act on homelessness and poverty? The Cross shows me that I have been blessed to be a blessing. How do I treat the refugee? The Cross shows me that when I do unto others I do unto Him. Do I put myself out there to support and care for those affected by war? The Cross tells me that greater love has no one than this…

On that Cross we see love inexplicably giving of itself unselfishly and with no strings attached. We see a grace-filled act that we can never earn or repay being offered to us. And we see it freely given so that it can be both freely received and freely given away again. And give it away again we should since under the light of the Cross, the science and the math make it impossible to lose what is given to us when we give it away. And so we give it away, not once, but a math and science defying “over and over and over again”.

Everything, if we are careful to allow whatever it is we are looking at to be lit up by the Cross of Calvary, will look different under the light of the Cross. And we will only see everything in its true way when it is considered in the light of the Cross.

I wonder – if you were to look at something today illuminated by the Cross of Jesus, how might it look different? And what might seeing that thing in its true light mean in regards to how you might engage with it?

Live Simply & Simply Live.

Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk.

Living in the Pockets

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This week has been a hard one. I’ve been avoiding the nudge to be still. Well that’s not completely true, because in this day and age you don’t have to avoid it. You have to go looking for stillness. So I guess I haven’t been avoiding the nudge as much as ignore it.

I tried again this morning. I had some time before a meeting so I thought I’d take a walk along the beachfront near where the meeting was. I thought the movement – outside as I walked and inside as I watched what was going on around me – would keep me occupied.

Ever have those occasions when your feet just “take” you somewhere? I ended up at the start of a track that led into the headlands. Not having a clue, I felt to follow it. As the path wound up the head, and as the bush began to enclose and the sounds become quiet, I knew I had been conned!

“Sit at the top”, I sensed. “Sit where?”, I thought. And then there was a seat. And I sat.

Now I was still – inside and out. With nothing to do but be and pray for a while. Wasn’t a long time, but it was enough for my soul to be fed and watered.

This “Divine Conspiracy” caught me by surprise. On the way down though, I noted that if you’d told me to fit in some time for prayer and reflection, I’d have probably said it wasn’t possible. But I realised the importance of living a little each day in the “pockets”…

Pockets of time. Pockets of space.

One of the big questions I get from people seeking to deepen their spiritual life is, “How on earth do you find the time and space to do the things that allow that spiritual enrichment to happen?” The Modern Monk Project has seen me create a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly schedule of sorts where I plan various times and spaces into my day/week/month/year to pray, work, engage, read, journal, practice various exercises, retreat and so on. (You may be glad to know I am working on a resource that will show you how you can do this. Watch this space…!)

But living a monastic way outside the cloister means there is less “protection” on that time. Simple things like a child or spouse being sick, being tired, a change of plans or even being on holiday are enough to throw the rhythms out.

When the rhythm is out, it’s easy to let things go. But today’s experience is a great example of how you can look for little bits of time and space which can go a long way to breathing a little life back in again.

It is far too easy to throw soul care in the too hard basket. While not feeding our soul and our bodies can both have a similar outcome, we tend to take a little more notice of one. Perhaps we’ve been conned into thinking feeding our bodies can be done on the run – we pick something up and eat or drink – but feeding our souls takes more effort.

Eating where and when you can may not be ideal, but it keeps you alive. I’d like to suggest the same goes for nourishing our soul. It may not be as ideal as 30 minutes of prayer and reflection, but looking for pockets of time, space and place in which to do so is better than nothing.

Waiting in line at the bank or on hold with your telco? Read. Time between meetings? Say a prayer office. Got to your kids’ school to pick them up early? Get out your labyrinth app and take a prayer “walk”. Got some time you weren’t expecting because the doctor was running to time? Find a spot where you can journal.

Look around – every day these pockets pop up. Go prepared so that if they appear you can use them to nourish your soul a little. It may not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing at all.

Live Simply, Simply Live.

Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk.

Never Be Poor Again

If-you-want-to-feel-rich-just-count-the-things-you-have-that-money-cant-buyAre you rich?

If we were to be honest, most of us would have to say that our immediate answer to that question was “No”.  And maybe compared to a Bill Gates, Donald Trump or Sir Richard Branson, you would be right.

So let’s spin the question around – are you poor? Again, it is most likely that your immediate answer to that question was “No”. And again, there are people who comparatively are poorer than you are.

Here is the twist. I have spent some time in places where there really are poor people. Really poor. Like, less than $2 per day poor. Last time I was there, after speaking at a church service I asked a couple of people if they were poor. And each time, can you guess what their answer was? You guessed it – their answer was, “No”.

Now you might say that this is because these people don’t know what poor is. Perhaps. But having spent time with them, I would like to suggest something different.

It’s because they understand what rich is.

And I think I understand too, now,  thanks to my refugee friends and time in The Modern Monk Project…

Most people recognise poverty as one of the three vows of monastic life (the other two being chastity and obedience). However St. Benedict had monks take three vows of which the common one is not poverty but obedience (the other two are stability and “conversion of life/morals”. So poverty, as an explicit vow, is not one that Benedictine monastics take on. It may look as though they do, since fully professed monks and nuns are to renounce all personal ownership and share everything they have freely within the community. But this is not because of a vow of poverty. It is because I think they have discovered something that our Third World friends knew as well.

Have you ever thought about why it is we would like to have more money? It’s not because of what money is. If we really wanted bits of paper and metal, we could fill our wallets and pockets with paper and metal and be done with it! Nor do I think we necessarily want the things that money can buy. No, we would like to have more money because of what the money, or rather the things we can buy with it, make us feel. Advertisers know this which is why they spend millions of dollars playing to your emotions not just selling you on the features of a doo-dad!

Having the money can give us a feeling of security – we know that we will have enough to pay for emergencies if they come up. It can give us a feeling of peace – we know we will have enough for the bills we have to pay. Or we like that we have the money because it allows us to buy the car that will give us the feeling of importance when we drive it. Or we can purchase the new iThing when it comes out and feel accepted and/or liked by the crowd.

What monastics have learned though is that they do not need peace and security from dollars in the bank; nor do they find their importance or acceptance in cars, iThings and the like. What they have discovered – still struggle with from time to time, but have discovered – is that all these things can only really be found in God. After all, the dollars will come and go,  cars and iThings will be in and our of vogue. But God remains the same – and we can always know – yes, fully know – that we are secure and known and accepted for all time by Him.

Be careful though – the wrong end of such thinking is that money or things are wrong or evil. Not true. Money in itself, while being capable of being used for both, is nether good nor evil. And the Bible is clear – it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothey 6:10). You don’t have to have any money to have that problem!

However, when our thinking is right – when we know that our identity and security is to be found in God – it is then that we come to the place of not needing to use as much of it. How much less money would you need for yourself if you did not need to stash, spend or consume as much to make you feel better? How much less would you be a slave to your job if you did not need as much? Imagine being able to work less and spend more time with your family or volunteering in the community because you did not need as much? Or alternately, what if, now realising you don’t necessarily need to use as much as you do, you had excess money after caring for your family’s needs that you could give to a charity, or to overseas aid, or to mission somewhere in the world?

St. Paul found the perfect balance. In writing to the church at Philipi, he said this:

“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him that gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:10-13)

When we realise that anything and everything in life is possible when we do it resting in God’s identity and life and peace and strength, then we truly can do all things. As an excercise, read through the first three chapters of Ephesians and realise who you are. Let me help you get started: blessed, chosen, holy, blameless, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, grace lavished. And that is just the first eight verses! The money and the things aren’t bad, having money and things isn’t bad, but at the same time you might find you need less of both when they are not needed to stroke our egos or comfort our broken hearts.

All the things that money can buy cannot ever settle us in the same way that finding our centre in God can. And that is why monastics seemingly shun the need for great wealth and a myriad of gadgets. (They still use them mind you – just don’t have the same reliance on them as we might and shouldn’t!) And why my Third World friends don’t think that they are poor.

Because when you know where you stand with God, you never can be poor because you realise that you are rich beyond measure!

Live Simply. Simply Live.

Mark G

~aka The Modern Monk.

 

Living Noisy to Drown Out the Voice

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When you go looking for peace and quiet, what do you really do? Pop the headphones in? Sit in the cinema or in front of the television? Kick back in a suburban cafe and watch the busy world pass by?

Or if you really do get it, how long do you last? An hour? Four? Can you last a full day?

Before you answer the above questions, let me define what I mean by peace and quiet.

By quiet, I mean nothing except nature. Okay, so you may get the faint hum of traffic or something like that. But otherwise, nothing. Nada. Zilch.

By peace, I mean still. Both ways – stillness externally, unmoving, not fidgeting; stillness internally, mind and emotions at rest.

Let’s face it – such peace and quiet isn’t a pipe dream, we just don’t go after it because deep down we don’t really want it, because deep down we also know that if we do get it it is going to scare the Dickens out of us!!

Sure, God is at times in the thunder clap and the roaring wind. But the still small voice is just as important. Maybe even more so, because that’s the voice God is most likely to use to speak personally, deeply. And while we all desire to hear God’s voice, if we were to be honest even though we know that it will be said in love, we’re all a little scared as to what he might reveal, or tell us to do, or remind us of.

And so we do our best to be not at peace and not at quiet. Like I am now.

And so I ask for the strength of the Spirit to help me be still and quiet. No noise, only quiet. No do, only be.

And I am finally in the place where I can say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant listens.”

Now, how long am I going to last… ;o)

Live Simply, Simply Live,

Mark G
aka The Modern Monk.

Observance – just what is that…?!

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As I write this, we are about to commence the observance of Advent for 2013. In reflecting on this, the word Observe stands out. It is an interesting word. In looking at various definitions of the word, one said, “To Observe is to mark or to be attentive to something; to consider carefully.” (more…)

Commitment and Discipline

The Modern Monk Project and the Blog in particular have been a labour of love. As a person with a keen interest in how one might find the rhythm and pace of monastic life working in the modern world outside the confines of the monastery, I love it. As a natural writer, I love it. Maintaining a steady load of output in terms of the blog and materials production, especially when ones day work is not connected to the project – well, that’s the labour part!! (more…)

The Modern Monk Project Is Getting A Reboot!

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It is with much pleasure that I am able to announce the beginning of a new era in The Modern Monk Project. The project, which entered its 4th year in October 2013, has taken me on a Journey of peaks and valleys over that time. But a recent hiatus (more from blogging than from the Project itself) allowed me some space to listen and begin to dream with God about where the journey so far had brought me and where we were to go next…

And so I sit here today with Benedict’s Rule and my Bible developing the next phase which will see TMMP growing into a community working out their faith in Jesus together with the path illuminated by the Rule and many lost elements of Christian Spirituality.

This could take some time as I want to do this well. Very well. I desire The Modern Monk to be a place where a community of sorts is formed, where I can pray for, help, teach and support your endeavours for a deeper, vibrant and enriching spiritual life that engages with every part of who you are and what you do. I want to develop resources that will help and support you in your journey. So please, let me know how I can assist; and I hope you will pray for me as the Project is rebooted in the coming year. Stay tuned…!

Mark G
aka The Modern Monk

The Wisdom of Stability

‘The most important thing most of us can do to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.’
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Author, The Wisdom of Stability

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Most readers of The Modern Monk Blog know that my personal spiritual journey is that of within a Christian tradition (not traditional Christian, mind you) with a Benedictine bent. I like to talk about it as walking along The Way, following Jesus with the path illuminated by The Rule of St Benedict. In other words, I follow a Christian path, and the way I walk it is in Benedictine shoes.

The Rule of St Benedict is an amazing little book. Written as a rule for monasteries that he set up in the early 6th Century, The Rule is not, as it sounds, a strict list of draconian laws to keep monks in check. Certainly it was taken seriously and a Monk who took their full profession were many times challenged by their superiors with The Rule as the benchmark.

But what The Rule provides is a structure in which to thrive. It provides a framework, if you will, or an order to maintain ones disciplines of their faith – prayer, work, ministry, worship, justice and so on. This is not necessary for all Christians. But for a systematic guy who needs structure and routine to operate well, The Rule gave me a safe ground within which to thrive.

Benedictines take a simple, three part vow. Obedience, Stability, Conversion of Life. And of these three, it is probably the second one that has been most illusive for most of my life. Which is a shame because the benefits of stability, as contrary to modern life as a stable life seems to be, are of great benefit to our communities. And because the idea is so counter-cultural, our communities suffer for lack of it…

I grew up an army kid. By the time I finished High School, I had lived in 11 houses. By the time I was married a couple of years later, I had lived in three more. And as I prepare to celebrate 20 years of marriage in three months time, my wife and I have shared life to date in 11 places we have called home. Of those 11, both my daughter (13) and son (11) have lived in 7 of them. On average for my son, that’s 1.57 years per house! For me, it’s 1.6.

What I have noted however is this desire I have for connection. I desire to live in community. I want to live in the place where I also shop, eat, play, work, run, worship and do life. I call it The Village Vibe. Problem for me is that I seem to live in a time and place in history and geography that doesn’t seem to have this many places any more.

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But The Village Vibe doesn’t exist because there is no where to do it. I reckon it doesn’t exist for two reasons. First, there is a loss of desire for community, so engaging in life with people in your village is darn hard. But second, building The Village Vibe requires a commitment to stability. And no one these days wants the “locked in” vibe of planting themselves somewhere forever.

Stability has so much going for it. Monks can’t run away from problems. They have to work them out. Monks don’t flit from one place to another. Relationships are for life. Monks don’t have a lack of purpose. They are part of a legacy that has built for some time in the place where they feel called to be; and that will continue long after they have gone. Monks don’t look to move onto the next big thing. The thing they are on now is where it’s at. It means the work they do has time to be planted, watered, grown and brought to bear fruit for the community in which they live and serve for generations to come.

There is something minimal about stability too. You don’t shift around so what you have and where you live – you tend to be committed to those things. You look after them and repair them and care for them in a way that differs from the one who can pack up and move to the better, brighter, bigger, more up-to-date.

And stability grows us in so many ways that we just cannot grow when we move around.

About 12 years ago, I went through a period of personal doubt about my call to ministry. I remember saying to a mentor that I felt like a palm tree – sure I was tall and bore good fruit, but my roots were shallow and it would have only taken a strong wind to blow me down. I remember saying I wanted to be an oak. It would take longer to get there, but I wanted deep roots and solid footing. And to get that stability required surrendering to somewhere.

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I honestly think that life would be so much simpler if we stopped looking and dreaming for the next thing that would be bigger and better and we committed to where we were. As my young wise and good friend Katie Ebenezer once posted on her Facebook status – The grass is always greener where you water it.

Cheers & Peace,

Br Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk

Paul, Running, Me and Another Book?

Today at church the pastor continued in the series on Philippians from 3:12-4:1. And I have to tell you, this was truly an epiphany for reasons that will become very clear very quickly.

Since the start of 2012, I have got back into running and running minimalist shoe/foot wise (barefoot really isn’t a shoe!) and ultra distances at that. In the past 15 months I’ve covered over 2000km including a half marathon, 25k trail race and 50k ultra. I have a few more 50k and 50 milers in my sights, with hopefully a 100k, 100miler and a crack at the “Coast to Kosciusko Ultra”, which runs 217ish kilometres from the NSW Coast to the top of Australia’s highest mountain within the next few years.

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All this time though I have wondered – WHAT HAS ALL THIS GOT TO DO WITH themodernmonk PROJECT?!

Okay, so I have found my running time to be prayerful and meditative. I love the connection with God I feel as I run, and my prayer space on the road or trail is just wonderful. But today, Ps Russell honed in on a point I cannot believe was illusive until today. (more…)

Of Snakes and Doves

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This year, the word that emerged with me from my three days of prayer, silence, solitude and fasting at the start of 2012 was “SURRENDER”. I have to honestly say I thought it had had it’s run. But right now, I am seeing the need to surrender in ways that are making it exceedingly difficult to do – more difficult than I imagined.

And so, to my surprise (or not so surprise), today’s homily from the Office of Readings from St John Chrysostom (one of my favourite early church fathers) is about, you guessed it, surrender. What was most surprising was his text from Matthew 10:16 – “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Doves innocent and surrendering, yes. But snakes?!

Here is an excerpt from what the Golden Tongue wrote. I hope you are as challenged and encouraged by it also.

“What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counselled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence.”

Looks like in the last 32 days of 2012 I still have some inner work to do and some exercising of it in the outer world. May God give us strength by His Spirit to achieve this virtue which is so non-21st Century Christian, let alone person…

Cheers and Peace,

Br. Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk